Baseball: Scouting Lake County
NORTH SUBURBAN CONFERENCE LAKE DIVISION
LAKE ZURICH BEARSCoach: Chuck Gandolfi (3rd season)
Last year: 15-20
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the regional semifinal to Lake Forest, 4-2.
Key players lost: IF Steven Elrod, P DJ Postilion
Key players returning: IF Jacob Kubin, sr., OF/P Nick Sanders, sr., P Shane Nolan, jr., P Matt Svanson, jr.
Key newcomers: P/IF Ben Cornelius, soph., C/OF Tyler Snep, fr.
Outlook: The newness is starting to wear off. And now it's time for the growth. "This season will be my third season at Lake Zurich and you can see the progression from year to year as the players are understanding and applying their skills to what we want them doing," said Lake Zurich coach Chuck Gandolfi who is closing in on his 600th career win after a long stint as the head coach at Carmel. Pitching should be a strength for the Bears, who will rely heavily on returning pitchers Nick Sanders, Shane Nolan and Matt Svanson to improve on last year's sub-.500 record. Some younger players, such as sophomore pitcher Ben Cornelius and freshman catcher Tyler Snep, will also get significant playing time. "We are starting some players with very little varsity experience," Gandolfi said. "We will be challenging our returners to step up and lead this team." Infielder Jacob Kubin is a returning all-North Suburban Conference selection who hit .382 last season.
LIBERTYVILLE WILDCATSCoach: Sean Ferrell (1st season)
Last year: 20-15
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the regional semifinal to Stevenson, 5-4.
Key players lost: SS Jimmy Govern (Eastern Illinois), P Mitch Townsend (Southern Illinois), 2B Jake Vogt (Luther)
Key players returning: P Ben Kimpler, sr., 1B Tim Calamari, sr., OF Brian Murphy, sr., SS Chase Patterson, jr.
Key newcomers: OF Daniel Marks, jr., C Jack Peterson, jr., P/3B Colin Fields, soph., P Riley Gowens, soph.
Outlook: Libertyville will be ready to expect the unexpected this season. Five days before the start of baseball season, Sean Ferrell, a long-time underlevel coach at Libertyville, was named interim varsity head coach. Ferrell replaces Jim Schurr, who resigned unexpectedly after 13 years on the job. Also unexpected is the loss of three seniors who would have contributed significantly. Riley Lees, Cam Shaffer and Nick Neumann are all football players who are still nursing injuries from football season and will miss all of baseball. "We will be a very young team," Ferrell said. "However, I really like the makeup of our team. The kids have adapted really well to the change in our coaching staff, and worked really hard and unselfishly." Two football players, Ben Kimpler and Brian Murphy, are healthy enough to play baseball this spring and will be among the leaders of the team. Both started on Libertyville's state finalist team in the fall. "I will count heavily on Ben and Brian as they bring a football player's mentality to our team," Ferrell said. "They bring a certain mental toughness to our team and great maturity and leadership." Libertyville's strength will be up the middle with two solid catchers in Jack Peterson and sophomore Luke Plunkett. Junior shortstop Chase Patterson and centerfielder Dan Marks will give defensive stability.
MUNDELEIN MUSTANGSCoach: Todd Parola (22nd season)
Last year: 28-10
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the sectional final to Stevenson, 2-1.
Key players lost: OF Sam Osisek, P/1B Nick Brune, 3B Luke Peterson, P/OF Cooper Michalski, SS Carter Naughton
Key players returning: P Reese Dolan, P Brendan Murphy, C Reid Rubio, IF Zack Zagula
Key newcomers: IF Nick Stricker, jr., SS Jake Breitenreiter, sr.
Outlook: It's been almost a year since Mundelein suffered a tough loss in the state tournament to North Suburban Conference rival Stevenson. But the Mustangs haven't forgotten that game. In fact, they haven't wanted to. It will be a source of motivation. "We lost a heartbreaker in the sectional finals last year and hopefully we can learn from it," said Mundelein coach Todd Parola, whose team won the North Suburban Conference title last season. "We lost four of our key hitters from last year and are hoping that the younger guys can step up. Our pitching is more advanced than our hitting and we need to be far more consistent defensively than we were last year." The Mustangs feature two pitchers who combined for nearly 150 strikeouts last season. Brendan Murphy went 8-1 with a 0.54 earned run average and 92 strikeouts. Reese Dolan won 4 games with a 2.26 earned run average and 47 strikeouts.
STEVENSON PATRIOTSCoach: Patrick Block (1st season)
Last year: 27-12
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the supersectional to Jacobs, 3-1.
Key players lost: P Jake Nusinow, OF Jimmy Marchese, IF Willie Bourbon (Northwestern)
Key players returning: IF Patrick Loeffler, sr., IF Jack Totter, sr., C Christian Dutler, sr., OF Dylan Molek, sr., P Justin Stark, sr., P Tyler Pauly, sr., C Robert Mcgaha, sr., P Michael Kingery, sr., P Bronson Litcher, sr., P Logan Lavelle, sr., P Justin Kopech, sr.
Key newcomers: P/IF Charlie Bourbon, jr., OF Charlie Ling, jr., P Michael Marchese, jr., OF Henry Marchese, jr., P Kevin Chapman, jr., P Michael Sobel, jr., IF Jack Housinger, soph.
Outlook: The new head varsity coach at Stevenson, Patrick Block certainly isn't new to Stevenson or new to its players either. Block, who is replacing Paul Mazzuca, is a 2001 Stevenson graduate and had been the freshman coach there for the last nine years. Now, Block will be coaching 25 varsity players who all played for him on the freshman baseball team. "This senior class has been very successful at Stevenson," Block said. "They won nearly 30 games their freshmen year together and 30 games their sophomore year. We have a group of 25 baseball players that we believe can compete with anybody in the state." Stevenson's pitching staff is deep, with at least seven pitchers having a minimum of 12 innings of experience from last year and four pitchers with at least 35 innings of experience. Justin Stark, Tyler Pauly and Jake Nusinow got 61, 47 and 46 innings respectively last year. "How many teams can say they have that many senior pitchers with experience," Block said. "Our seniors will lead us and we believe we have the right mix of juniors and sophomores to complement our strong senior class." Infielder Patrick Loeffler is Stevenson's leading returning hitter. He had a .379 batting average last season with 39 hits and 28 runs.
WARREN BLUE DEVILSCoach: Clint Smothers (10th season)
Last year: 25-12
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the sectional semifinal to Mundelein, 6-3.
Key players lost: OF Chris Mathieu (Illlinois-Springfield), P Andrew Hill (Bradley), P Sean Hannigan (Carthage), P Scott Gordon (Wisconsin-Platteville), Brad Zahn
Key players returning: SS Matt Burch, sr. (Arkansas), P Ryan Davila, sr. (Heartland CC), P Sam Lamotte, sr. (Grinnell)
Key newcomers: OF Robert Archbold, jr., P Christian Caban, sr., OF Tanner Dyer, jr., IF/DH Ricky Lee, jr., P/IF Jordan Litke, jr., OF Jack McCullough, jr., C/IF Mike Rosenberg, sr., OF Luke Schmitt, jr., IF Matt Temaner
Outlook: After 25 wins and a regional title last season, Warren is in rebuilding mode. The Blue Devils lost many senior leaders from that team. "We will be very young this year and a lot will depend on the play of the junior class," Warren coach Clint Smothers said. "We return only two pitchers with more than 15 innings from last year. And we will have only three position players back. For us to be successful, it will depend on how quickly our juniors can make the transition from sophomore ball to varsity. I am excited to see them grow throughout the year and see them compete."
Three seniors have already secured spots on college teams. Shortstop Matt Burch will be playing at Arkansas while pitcher Ryan Davila will be going to Heartland Community College and Sam Lamotte will be pitching at Grinnell. Davila and Lamotte each won five games last season. They combined for 108 strikeouts.
NORTH SUBURBAN CONFERENCE PRAIRIE DIVISION
ANTIOCH SEQUOITSCoach: Chris Malec (1st season)
Last year: 11-22
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in regional semifinal to Harvard, 9-4.
Key players lost: P/OF Justin Stender (Marian), IF Travis Slywka (Marian)
Key players returning: P/IF Ben Gutke, jr., OF Austin Marsiglio, sr., P/IF John Neville, sr., P Michael Mentone, jr., IF/OF Connor Geidner, jr.
Key newcomers: C Alex Unekis, jr., IF/OF Jake Emer, jr.
Outlook: In his first season as head coach, Chris Malec will already see his team be a reflection of his vision. Malec, who takes over for longtime coach Paul Petty, had been the pitching coach at Antioch since 2007, and his goal for the program was to develop a plethora of pitchers. "I've wanted to create more arms in the program," Malec said. "It always seemed like there were one or two guys who could throw at each level but not many more. This season, we could have as many as 12 guys see time on the varsity mound, which is unheard of. Pitching will be a strength." John Neville, Michael Mentone and Ben Gutke return with pitching experience from last year. Gutke was also one of the top hitters on the team, but overall, the Sequoits often struggled offensively last season. "Our offensive numbers were not very good and we ended up playing a lot of small ball to try to generate runs," Malec said. "I believe this season we will be able to be more aggressive on offense. These guys are young, but if they stay focused on our goals and continue to compete with each other to earn playing time, we could sneak up on some people this year."
GRANT BULLDOGSCoach: Dave Behm (7th season)
Last year: 25-12
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the regional semifinal to Prairie Ridge, 10-0.
Key players lost: C/IF Nick Heidenthal (McHenry CC), IF/OF Eddie Kusiak, P Andrew Stone (Carroll), P Chad Baron
Key players returning: P Bryan Libby, P Sam Fernandez, jr., IF James Pendley, IF Ben Kusiak, jr., IF/P Matt Mason, OF Michael Bengston, IF Ricky Allen, jr., C Ethan Unger, P Hunter Sadoski, OF Scott Porten, P Nick Burgess, P Sean Lane
Key newcomers: P/OF Shawn Riley, soph, P/IF Logan Lewis, jr., P Aidan Earl, jr., C Jake Mitchell, OF Ray Guardado, IF Brendan Dreschler
Outlook: The bad news for Grant as it looks to hit the 25-win plateau again is that it lost three of its top players to graduation. Pitcher Andrew Stone won 16 games over the last two seasons, Eddie Kusiak was a .400-plus clean-up hitter and Nick Heidenthal was versatile enough to play six positions last year and hit .364. But there is also good news for the Bulldogs, and plenty of it. More than half of their lineup from last year returns, including pitcher and infielder Matt Mason, who enters his third year on varsity. "Matt brings great experience and leadership," Grant coach Dave Behm said. "We return a nice mix of players, including four juniors who were on the varsity as sophomores." Those juniors are: Ben Kusiak, Ricky Allen, Sam Fernandez and Logan Lewis. James Pendley and Michael Bengston are also returning starters. On the mound, Grant returns veterans in Bryan Libby and Hunter Sadoski. Sadoski and Fernandez each pitched six wins last season. "We lost some key positions, but we bring in a junior class that is ready to fill those roles," Behm said. "They will add a lot of depth to our team on the mound and in the field."
LAKES EAGLESCoach: Ray Gialo (6th season)
Last year: 23-11
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in reginal final to Marian, 10-6.
Key players lost: P Chase Slota (Wabash Valley), OF Matt Nordlund (Marian), SS Justin Blasinski (McHenry CC), IF Matt Putman (Carroll) C Cody Nuxoll (Carroll), OF Zach Meyer (Carroll)
Key players returning: P/IF Ben Milewski, sr., IF Max Swiatek, sr., P Jack Christensen, jr., P/OF Matt Milewski, sr.
Key newcomers: OF Stepehn Mogged, jr. (Southern Illinois), P/IF Brandon Khan, jr., C/IF Tommy Jones, jr., C/IF Simon Varitek, jr.
Outlook: There certainly is an out with the old, in with the new feel at Lakes. The Eagles will have a much different look than the team that won the North Suburban Prairie Division last year. "We will be an extremely young team this year," Lakes coach Ray Gialo said. "We had 18 seniors graduate off of last year's team and only one returning starting position player this year. We also lost 160 innings of our 218 total innings pitched. Our pitching staff will be a work in progress early on as guys get comfortable at the varsity level." Senior Ben Milewski and junior Jack Christensen will likely be at the top of the rotation while seniors Lucas Lang and Tim Ohlwein and junior Brandon Khan will get plenty of innings. The outfield will be a strength with junior Stephen Mogged leading the way. He has already committed to Southern Illinois. In the infield, Milewski is the only returning position player. In addition to pitching, he also plays shortstop. "Losing in last season's regional championship was difficult, but this team is looking forward to creating its own legacy from last year's senior-dominant team," Gialo said. "With this being the last year of the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division, we would love to finish as two-time defending division champions."
ROUND LAKE PANTHERSCoach: Ed Adamson (8th season)
Last year: 6-24
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the regional quarterfinal to Buffalo Grove, 17-7.
Key players lost: C Tyler Sanchez (Aurora), SS Vincent Milianti, OF Yoshio Alvarez, P/IF Joe Theobald
Key players returning: P/IF Spencer Daniels, sr., P/OF Ben Graff, sr., IF Nick Berry, sr., OF Carlos Banuelos, sr.
Key newcomers: IF Jose Vazquez, sr., OF Gianni Ocana, jr., C Zack Husk, jr., P/SS Tyler Roman, soph., IF Amadeus Pope, soph., P/IN Liam Negrete, jr.
Outlook: There will be quite a few sophomores on the varsity since Round Lake has eliminated its sophomore team for this season. The Panthers will compete with only a varsity and freshman team this year. "We are working on increasing numbers for next year so that we can have three levels again," Round Lake coach Ed Adamson said. "For this year, we will be a very young team with a handful of sophomores on varsity. There are many uncertainties heading into this season. At this point, we don't know who will emerge as a key contributor, but multiple players will get an opportunity to show what they've got. I've got a bunch of players who are determined to get better and compete." Spencer Daniels, Ben Graff and Nick Berry are the Panthers' most experienced players from last year. "We will be relying on them for leadership until some of the other athletes emerge," Adamson said. Both Daniels and Graff will be starting pitchers for Round Lake. Berry is an infielder. "We are not going to have pitchers who strike out tons of batters," Adamson said. "We will need to throw strikes and make plays behind our pitchers."
VERNON HILLS COUGARSCoach: Jay Czarnecki (16th season)
Last year: 24-14
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in sectional final to Wauconda, 10-1.
Key players lost: DH Jack Duffley, P Ben Geren (Carthage), C Joey Marras (Illinois Wesleyan)
Key players returning: OF Tommy Earhart, sr., 1B Chris Kahn, sr., SS Connor McNamara, sr., OF Matt Paszko, sr., P Sam Perlin, sr., 2B Matt Gramins, jr., OF Joey Rangel, jr., CF Brennan Reback, jr., P Andrew Smith, jr., 3B Drew Winegardner, jr.
Key newcomers: P/OF Brendan Keogh, sr., OF Tyler Brancato, jr., C Kyle Hull, jr., P Brad Larsen, jr., P Ryan Larsen, jr., C Nick Marras, jr., P/IF Steven Tow, jr., OF Kyle Fasbinder, jr.
Outlook: Young last year, Vernon Hills is just the opposite this year. "We had very little experience last year and now we are returning seven of nine (starters)," Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki said. "Our players understand that older doesn't in itself mean that they will be better. Our players are working hard and have entered the season with the right mindset…improve on 2015." In winning 24 games last season, Vernon Hills tied for second in the North Suburban Prairie Division and reached the sectional championship game. The Cougars lost starting catcher Joey Marras from that team but Kyle Hull and Nick Marras (Joey's younger brother) are ready to step into that important role. Offensively, Tommy Earhart, one of the top hitters from last season, returns. Meanwhile, the pitching staff at Vernon Hills will be one of the deepest in years. Senior Sam Perlin and junior Andrew "Chick" Smith got more opportunities than expected last season due to some injuries to other players. "They both worked very hard in the off-season which has led the coaches to believe that they should hit the ground running," Czarnecki said of Perlin and Smith. "We are hoping that the 2015 experience translates into 2016 success."
WAUCONDA BULLDOGSCoach: Bill Sliker (14th season)
Last year: 18-16
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in supersectional to Nazareth, 7-2.
Key players lost: P Kyle Harmon (McHenry CC), OF Josh Anderson, 1B Jack Weller, OF Joey Schaer
Key players returning: P/2B Collin Shrader, sr., P/SS Jake Grobelny sr., P Kevin Malisheski, sr., C Luke Weller, sr., P/SS Jacob Bicknase, jr., P/1B Drake Berman, sr., P/3B Trevor Sefcik, jr., C/1B Brian McFarlin, sr., OF Greg LePage, sr., P/OF Korey Soetaert, jr.
Key newcomers: OF Parker Fink, sr., P/2B Mason Marchese, sr., C Richard Alvarado, jr., 2B Robert Aviles, jr., P/2B Spencer Bills, jr., P/OF John Herbst, jr., C Tyler Husko, jr., P/3B Ty Janik, jr., OF Alex Machon, jr., P/OF Connor Olsen, jr., P/1B Mike Turzynski, jr.
Outlook: Wauconda is coming off of one of its most successful and exciting seasons in program history. The Bulldogs advanced all the way to the supersectional last spring. "We have some experienced players coming back after a successful season in 2015," Wauconda coach Bill Sliker said. "Players are preparing and practicing to have another successful season. We would like to draw off some of our experienced players at the start of the season." Unfortunately, the Bulldogs won't be able to lean on its most experienced and effective pitcher from last year. At least not right away. Senior Kevin Malisheski, who has signed with Illinois State, tore his ACL during football season and is finishing the rehab on his knee. He is hoping to return at some point this spring. Collin Shrader, Jake Grobelny, Jacob Bicknase, Drake Berman, Trevor Sefcik and Korey Soetaert are returners who hope to pick up the slack on the mound. "We would like to have the pitching staff become the strength of our team," Sliker said. "We hope to improve as the year moves along, and be competitive in most games."
FOX VALLEY CONFERENCE
GRAYSLAKE CENTRAL RAMSCoach: Troy Whalen (14th season)
Last year: 20-16
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in sectional semifinal to Vernon Hills, 5-4.
Key players lost: P Davd Llorens (Heartland CC), SS Jay Hoffman (Beloit), P Justin Guryn (CLC), Anthony Fitzgerald, Devin Moran, Jeff Terronez
Key players returning: C Sam Nozicka, sr., P/OF Ben Fitzgerald, jr., P/IF Sam Ruhlmann, sr., P Griffin Edwards, sr., P Brett Whalen, sr., IF Ethan LaBeck, sr.
Key newcomers: P/1B Ryan Casper, IF Kyle Allen, jr., C/1B Benton Trohler, soph., IF Jimmy Oslovich, sr., P Bryce Gniadek, jr., P/IF Coby Moe, fr., OF Ryan Mikes, sr., P/IF Ryan Spicer, jr., IF Kevin O'Brien, fr., OF Ryan Ford, sr., P/IF Justin Shepley, jr.
Outlook: Grayslake Central will be playing its last season in the Fox Valley Conference ahead of next year's move to the newly formed Northern Lake County Athletic Conference. The Rams will be hoping for one last hurrah in aiming for their sixth conference title in the last nine years. But Grayslake Central has some holes to fill from last year's 20-win team. "I can't remember the last time we had to replace a shortstop and second baseman in the same season," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "Sometimes one or the other, but not both." The middle infielders fighting for those important spots are: Ben Sulzer, Justin Shepley, Kyle Allen and Kevin O'Brien, a freshman. Senior catcher Sam Nozicka and junior centerfielder Ben Fitzgerald give some stability to what will otherwise be an inexperienced middle of the Grayslake Central defense. Nozicka is a four-year varsity player and a Memphis recruit. "Obviously, having Sam and Ben in those key positions is a strength," Whalen said. "Once we stabilize the middle of the infield diamond, our defense will be complete." On the mound, the Rams will be in good hands as more than 100 innings and more than half of the team's wins from last year return. Sam Ruhlmann, Griffin Edwards, Brett Whalen and Ethan LaBeck lead the way there. Ruhlmann got 6 pitching wins last season. Freshman Coby Moe should also get some meaningful innings. "He has a true varsity curveball and at 6-foot-3 will continue to grow into his body," Whalen said of Moe.
GRAYSLAKE NORTH KNIGHTSCoach: Brett Hill (1st season)
Last year: 17-19
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in the regional semifinal to Mundelein, 13-10.
Key players lost: P/IF Jack Barreca, P/1B Dom DiProva, OF George Deligiannis
Key players returning: C Alex Carrillo, sr., P/1B Brendan Taskovic, sr., P Patrick Schaefer, jr., 2B/SS Jake DaMore, sr., P/3B Danny Yates, jr., P/IF/OF Tyler Elias, sr., P/OF Stefan Davis, sr., IF Merrick Gentile, sr., OF Bobby Krebs, sr.
Key newcomers: OF Charlie Burr jr., P Hunter Ambre, jr., IF Declan Peterson, jr., IF Jon Cesario, ssr., IF Sam Nayyer, jr., OF Vince Gawerecki, jr., OF Devin Gaines, sr.
Outlook: It's just Brett Hill's first year as head coach at Grayslake North. But already, he's familiar with the team's history. "Grayslake North has never won a regional in baseball and I would love nothing more than to send these seniors out winners," Hill said. "I have a great group of seniors. I feel this group has the chance to do something special if we do the little things well and don't get too up or down throughout the grind of the season." However, the senior class is missing a key component in infielder Merrick Gentile. At least for early on. Gentile, the starting quarterback for the football team, went down with a season-ending knee injury last fall and is still completing his rehab. He is hoping to come back and play at some point during the baseball season. Gentile was one of the best baseball players in the area last year. "Losing Merrick during football has given some other players a chance to step up and compete for jobs and the competition has made everyone better," Hill said. "We are looking forward to his return, but will be strong in his absence." Catcher Alex Carrillo returns for the Knights, as do pitchers Brendan Taskovic, Patrick Schaefer, Danny Yates, Tyler Elias and Stefan Davis.
EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC
CARMEL CORSAIRSCoach: Bill Taylor (1st season)
Last year: 14-22
Last year's state tournament advancement: Lost in regional final to Wauconda, 3-0.
Key players lost: P Garrett McClellan, P Skylar Williams (Augustana)
Key players returning: C Cooper Johnson, sr., SS Matt Collins, sr., Griffin Norton
Key newcomers: P/IF/OF Eddie Pietschmann, jr.
Outlook: Last year's 14-22 season was one of the worst seasons in the history of the Carmel baseball program. And new coach Bill Taylor, a longtime assistant in the program, isn't afraid to remind his players of that. "Last season was very uncharacteristic of a Carmel team," Taylor said. "This team returns several players from last year that will have to prove that they are better than they played last year. If that sounds like a challenge, it is. Great teams challenge themselves and find ways to win. I feel like this group has the focus and determination to go out on the field and prove that they can compete. That's what Carmel baseball has always been about." Senior catcher Cooper Johnson will give the Corsairs a jumpstart in their quest to redeem themselves. Johnson is one of the best catchers in the country and is an Ole Miss recruit. He hit .382 last season and drove in 33 runs. Griffin Norton (.371) and Matt Collins (.333) also hit above .300 last season. "If the offense improves and the pitching comes around we should be able to put together a very solid season," Taylor said. "The pitching staff graduated 12 of our 14 wins from last season so we will need several members of the staff to step up and provide us with key innings. The team should be strong up the middle defensively which should help with an inexperienced pitching staff."